The significant reduction in crop production due to climate change pressures, such as an increase in temperature and changes in rainfall, is a major challenge. Finding potential solutions to this problem is crucial to ensure food security for the growing population. In a recent study conducted by researchers from Biodiversity International and their collaborators from Norway, Nicaragua, Italy, Ethiopia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Germany, and India have described how participation of farmers as citizen scientists can help to address this challenge. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
One potential solution to the problem is to choose the right variety of crop, one which can tolerate the pressures from the changing climate. Rapidly changing climatic conditions also demand using newer varieties which are better adapted to the current conditions. The current methods used by the research community to make recommendations to farmers for selecting the right variety has two limitations: they are not scalable and they do not generate recommendations customised for all local environmental conditions. The researchers found an innovative way to solve this problem by letting the farmers contribute as citizen scientists and provide data about suitable varieties from different places and cropping seasons.
The researchers followed an approach called triadic comparisons of technologies or ‘tricot’ which allows the farmers, including those with low literacy skills, to participate in the evaluation process. Each of the 12409 farmers who participated in this study evaluated the performance of three varieties of a crop randomly assigned to them from a larger set.
“We organized tricot trials to obtain a dataset covering 842 plots of common bean in Nicaragua, 1,090 plots of durum wheat in Ethiopia, and 10,477 plots of bread wheat in India”, informed the authors. The researchers then linked the data generated by the farmers with agro-climatic and soil data. They modelled the influence of the environment on the performance of the varieties.
The researchers inform that their approach can relate the effects of climatic variation on the performance of a variety and is able to generate recommendation about the suitable variety in different regions. “Our study demonstrates that in vulnerable, low-income areas, climatic analysis of variety performance is possible with trial data generated directly by farmer citizen scientists on farms”, added the authors. In the Indian context, the study suggested that a broader set of wheat varieties should be promoted here to take into account the climatic differences across the study area.
The researchers concluded that a collaborative approach among the farmers, seed producers and retailers, plant breeders and climate information providers is needed to fight the climate-change related challenges in crop management and that the tricot approach is important for linking the climatic and varietal information to the farmer.
“The citizen science approach described here has the potential to generate insights into variety adaptation, recommend adapted varieties, and help smallholder farmers respond to climate change”, conclude the authors.